Donating overtime? Not possible say legal experts. Indeed possible says HR Director Pia Meier – and prevailed.
herMoney: Mrs. Meier, as the HR Director of Seidel GmbH & Co KG you found yourself in the headlines. Are you surprised by this immense media attention?
Pia Meier: Yes, I never expected that what is so natural to me would be of great interest to so many people…
herMoney: “Natural” doesn’t seem natural these days. Your employees donated 3300 hours of overtime for one colleague so he can care for his son who was diagnosed with leukemia. How did this campaign come about?
Pia Meier: A colleague from the production department approached me and asked if I knew about the child of a colleague that has become gravely ill. I didn’t know about this and phoned this employee to inquire about it myself. He already used all of his annual leave and at once submitted his resignation to continue to care for his son, as his son was his priority. But for me this wasn’t an option, a resignation was completely out of the question. So I liaised with my boss and the leadership of our works committee, and we came up with a plan.
What did the plan look like?
Initially the company supported his family financially. And then we wrote to each of the 700 employees explaining the situation and asked if anyone would be willing to donate overtime. Within two weeks we accumulated 3300 hours in total.
Did all employees participate?
Yes, including the leadership who gave each 100 hours towards this campaign. This touched so many co-workers, including myself, and welded us closer together as colleagues. More or less we managed to get so many hours together that this colleague could take the better part of 1.5 years paid leave to be with his ill son – while receiving his entire salary including Christmas bonus, without fear of losing his job.
Does your employer support this project?
(laughs) Dr. Andreas Ritzenhoff, CEO and owner of Seidel isn’t actually a business economist, but a medical doctor. He inherited the company from his father and it was always his desire to lead the company with this approach. So we, as well as the works committee believe in and live the same values and pull together under these principles.
Your CEO studied medicine, you at first worked as a practice nurse and later became a multilingual secretary. It seems an unusual leadership duo…
If I was a legal professional I would not have considered such an option. Legal professionals think different, legal questions and ramifications are paramount to them. And as a legal professional I would probably have thought first of all the implications regarding taxes. Even law professors wrote to me and asked me how I managed to get away with this, as by law it isn’t allowed to transfer overtime between employees.
And what was your response?
That employment contracts are individual agreements. The transfer of overtime though is complicated for the tax office. We might still face some consequences regarding this, but we take this upon us for the sake of a good outcome for this colleague. On the other hand the finance secretary of the state of Hessen, Thomas Schäfer personally presented us with the „Menschen des Respekts“ (People of Respect) award on behalf of the regional government. In case his finance office embarks on penalizing us for “monetary benefits”, he would then have to explain himself!
Back to you: You have had a remarkable career. How does one go from a practice nurse and later multilingual secretary to becoming the Director of HR in a company with 700 employees?
That’s a long story. After my graduation as a multilingual secretary I worked as the assistant to the CEO. When the previous Director of HR left the company, my boss asked me if I could fill the spot temporarily to liaise with the works committee. Apparently I did my job very well. After a few months the leadership of the committee approached Dr. Ritzenhoff and suggested to promote me to be the new Director of HR.
Were you apprehensive to fulfill this job-role?
Of course I was. My first reaction was, “Oh goodness, how on earth can I fill these shoes”. “I am not a lawyer.” But I soon realized that this isn’t even important. Vital for this job is the interpersonal skills and the sense for people. If I do need some legal advise I would employ professionals. Heart and compassion are central in relation to working with people, you cannot buy emotional intelligence.
Apart from the campaign with the overtime donations, you have also helped others in unique ways. Is professional and private life inseparable for you?
Absolutely, you can’t cut off the private person from the professional. When someone has personal problems it will always affect their work. That is why I offer every employee support, but I don’t force it upon them. My colleagues know about this opportunity for help and are not shy either to approach me if they need to. For example one time two colleagues stood at my doorstep with their young child. They showed me an eviction note and were very distraught. The date of the eviction was the following day…
Were you able to help?
I immediately phoned the mayor of the city of Marburg whom I know is a member of the executive council of the Housing Association to plead with him to halt the eviction. And then I negotiated with the creditors. In the end we were able to reduce the debt from 25,000€ to 9,000€. Before the credit investigation office was satisfied to close the case, our company bridged the gap financially. Today these employees repay this through a borrowing rate of 3.3% interest from the bank and are paying it off in small instalments. They were able to keep their apartment and jobs.
Is your social activity not taken advantage of at times?
Of course you have to be careful, but it doesn’t happen. Maybe because I know our employees very well and am really interested in their well-being. But I also would not recommend for anyone to mislead me – I have a zero tolerance for dishonesty. Commitment is very important to us. Everyone deserves a chance, but if anyone plays foul they will have to leave the company.
You say that you take a strong interest in the well-being and life of your colleagues, do you think this is particularly a female attribute? Or to rephrase: do women lead differently than men?
Yes, I think so. Maybe it is the maternal instinct that we bring to the table. We women don’t just see the worker, but the human behind it. In recent years the number of leading women has risen. Since the foundation of the company in 1830 a woman has taken on the leadership of production now. And even in the product development and project management women are leading the departments.
In the global competitive market, can a company afford to be “human” in all its forms, strengths as well as weaknesses?
With all the developments and changes that are happening, we cannot remove the heart and the core of a person. And in the long-run the contest of skilled and specialist workers in the selection process will separate the wheat from the chaff. I experience again and again that skilled specialists choose to work with us, even when they would receive a higher salary in another company. If staff is not seen and respected as human beings, they will in the long-run burn out. I am absolutely convinced of that. And our approach seems to be paying off. In 2017 we had the best results to date in the history of our company.
Presentation of “People of Respect” Award, from left to right: CEO Dr. Ritzenhoff, Andreas Graf father of Julius, Finance Minister Thomas Schäfer, Head of Works Committee Kai Deuker and HR Director Pia Meier.
Pia Meier is the Director of HR since seven years and is a member of the executive leadership team of Seidel GmbH & Co KG [Inc.] (www.seidel.de/en). Established in 1830, the company with its 700 employees is the global leader in aluminum design products, specialising in packaging and containers for the cosmetic industry. In the spring of 2018 the personnel of Seidel was presented the “People of Respect” award from the State of Hessen for their unparalleled support towards their colleague Andreas Graf.
Andreas and Julius Graf
Translated from the German interview: https://hermoney.de/ihr-leben/fuehren-mit-herz-und-verstand/3/
Translated by LateNightGirl.org
Interview with workers and the CEO:
My additional comments: I really love the clear and strong message on their website regarding their core values and what they stand for in relation to their employees and work ethics. It is unmistakably clear what policy they have in place, and this in turn is visible in their support as well as success of their workforce.
Their leadership guidelines are like music to my ears, something I always deeply believed in and tried to implement with the teams I worked with, no matter how hard the company was I worked under. A clear stance from the company leadership is paramount for the protection, growth and success of any workplace.
I particularly love the last sentence and cannot stop tearing up when reading this: “Leadership through Perspective: Our managers are to put themselves into their colleagues’ place in order to see the situation through the employee’s eyes and instruct the employee based on this perspective. This encourages the employee to carefully re-think their impulses for the future and to modify towards the instructed approach.”